Iran’s Baloch population leads anti-regime protests six months after Mahsa Amini’s death

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Six months after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, protests have dwindled in many parts of Iran. But in Sistan and Baluchestan province on Iran’s eastern border, hundreds of protesters still gather every week after Friday prayers, despite crackdowns by authorities. 


A crowd of men gathers in the town centre of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, on March 10 in a video shared on social media by local human rights organisation Haalvsh. The men have just finished Friday midday prayers ­and are now chanting slogans together, calling for freedom for political prisoners in Iran.    

Behind them stands the Grand Makki Mosque, led by imam Molavi Abdol Hamid. The largest Sunni Mosque in Iran has played a central role in continued protests against the Iranian authorities in the southeastern border province, Iran’s second-largest.

In the rest of the country, protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody on September 16, 2022, for not properly following Iran’s hijab laws have dwindled. But for 23 weeks in a row, the Baloch ethnic group based in the southeast have taken to the streets despite paying a heavy price for their dissent. 

According to the NGO Human Rights Iran, 530 people have been killed as a result of protests in Iran in the past six months. 

In Sistan and Baluchestan province, one protest in particular stands out. On September 30 – now known as “bloody Friday” – security forces opened fire on protesters in Zahedan, killing at least 66 people, including children, says Amnesty International. 

>> Zahedan’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Reconstructing a massacre in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan Province 

Forced ‘confessions’, unfair trials 

Rather than supressing unrest  as authorities might have hoped  the violent crackdown had the opposite effect.  

Weekly protests resumed two weeks after ‘Bloody Friday’, despite increased surveillance. Along with a military presence and more security cameras in Zahedan, protesters had to contend with regular internet blackouts.  

Hospitals started being monitored so those injured in protests could be tracked.   

In early February, the Washington Post authenticated around 100 videos from Baloch protesters giving testimony of violence and intimidation being used against them. “Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) works in tandem with riot police and plainclothes agents to violently suppress demonstrations  carrying out arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate beatings and, in some cases, opening fire on civilians,” the paper reported. 

A report published by Amnesty International in March found that at least 13 Balochs had been sentenced to death since January “following grossly unfair trials”. Among these, six young men who took part in protests were sentenced to death for arson and stone-throwing. 

The report also found evidence of torture including sexual violence to produce forced “confessions”. Sources said that one Baloch detainee, Ebrahim Narouie, had needles stuck into his genitals. Another, Mansour Dahmardeh, was reportedly beaten so severely that his teeth and nose were broken.  

‘Social and economic despair’ 

The protest movement in Iran’s poverty-stricken southeast has its roots in “social and economic despair”, says Stéphane Dudoignon, Iran specialist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.  

In some parts of Sistan and Baluchestan province, the unemployment rate is up to 60% and investment in the region is rare. Climate change is also worsening living conditions by drying up seasonal lakes and causing a surge in cases of respiratory illness. 

As a majority Sunni population, the Baloch are routinely discriminated against by the ruling Shiite theocracy. Such discrimination means they are systematically ruled out from holding state jobs, for instance, as well as being brutally singled out by the judicial system. 

“The Baloch population is used to being targeted for a high number of executions,” says Dudoignon. “Even though they only make up 2% of the Iranian population they account for more than a third of annual executions.” 

“The current unrest reflects the cumulation of different frustrations,” Dudoignon adds. “For years, the Baloch have not been able to express themselves and they’ve seized this opening to shine a light on their cause.” 

Even so, the Friday protests are not only a rallying cry for the Baloch population – but for wider change in Iran. “They are taking part in a national movement,” Dudoignon says. 

Imam Molavi Abdol Hamid, who leads Friday prayers in Zahedan each week, has framed their cause as Iranian ­– rather than Baloch – since the beginning of the protests, despite holding contradictory views on one key issue. 

The Sunni leader is in favour of women wearing the Islamic veil, which has taken on a symbolic significance in national protests since Amini was arrested by morality police for allegedly failing to wear a head covering. 

>> ‘I never wear a headscarf anymore’: Iranian women continue to defy Islamic regime 

A shared desire for political change unites the imam and the Baloch population with the national movement. “The demands for democratisation that Molavi Abdol Hamid is advocating for are in line with those of many demonstrators across the country,” Dudoignon says.  

“There is a connection between the fight of a blogger in Tehran, a metal worker, or a protester in Zahedan: They all see themselves [being treated] as second-class citizens with no hope of being given the status of a citizen will full rights.”

This article is adapted from the original in French.

Source: Thanks france24